Well, as the saying goes It all depends on the way you look at it as there are many different ways of looking at the functions of music in society. If were going to take society to mean the general public then a lot of what follows is going to be broad generalisations as the reality is that any society contains a vast network of individuals, all of whom respond to and interact with music in different ways.
So, in order to keep things simple I shall concentrate on what I see as The Big Three functions of music in society, which are Entertainment One of the great levellers of society is its need for and provision of entertainment. Since cave men huddled together and tapped sticks on rocks music has nearly always been an accompaniment to social gatherings. Long before books were printed stories were told, and these oral traditions often developed into songs and music all performed to an audience.
This idea of expression and response is universal it transcends languages and cultures and can both unite and divide society at the same time. Modern music has become an integral part of the entertainment of society, be it via radio, TV, film, social networking or live performance. Its impossible to think of Steven Spielbergs movies without recalling John Williams sweeping film scores, or Coronation Street without the brass band theme tune. You only have to say Match of the Day and the tune pops into everyones head its almost subliminal. However, its in its most visceral form, live performance, that music truly shows its function in society. It unites.
People usually go to see a band because they like their music, and in doing so and for the length of the performance they combine their individuality to become a single entity the audience. And of course the festivals Glastonbury, Reading, V etc. – provide the opportunity to take the experience even further, as people become exposed to new and different music in the company of total strangers. In the safety of your own home, listening to the radio, you can take your time to decide whether you like a piece of music or not, whereas as an audience member the reaction is not only instantaneous, but is also informed by the reaction of those around you. And so music becomes a unifier of society or does it The flip side of the coin is, of course, that just as easily as it can unite people, so music can also divide people.
Which takes me neatly onto the next function of music in society, which is Communication Weve established that music is expressed by musicians and responded to by society but while some people revere one artist or genre of music, others will despise them. I appreciate that thrash metal isnt everyones cup of tea by some margin but by wearing a certain band t-shirt and therefore declaring to society as a whole my preferences, I am also opening channels of communication. Some people will take one look and give me a wide berth, while others may approach me and ask me about my music taste. I can discuss music face-to-face, online, on the phone, to an individual or a group and I am not alone.
Everyone responds to music in one way or another, so it functions within society as a stimulus for communication. The modern phenomenon of social media is only one facet of communication, but it is a prime example of societys need to communicate. By communicating with each other we establish our own opinions as the thoughts and beliefs of others inform our choices we can choose to agree or disagree with them, adding positive or negative reinforcement to our own beliefs. Some musicians choose to court controversy in society by modifying their appearance, their songs or their approach to the media, either deliberately or subconsciously. Popular musicians have always been attractive to the media as society wishes to know more about them and discuss them, so one way of standing out is by establishing a persona or body of music that does not fit in with societys norms. David Bowies androgynous look in the 1970s provoked huge discussion and differences of opinion, as did the start of the punk movement later that decade. The peace and freedom-loving hippies of the 1960s were denounced by the white-collar working classes as workshy dreamers, while the birth of the teenager in the 1950s was met with widespread fear by those who saw them as a threat to society.
Anyone who doesnt conform can be seen as either a threat or a role model, depending on your point of view either way, it is through discussion with others, through communication, that society makes its judgements. There are those who want to appeal to the masses just as those who want to stand on the fringes of society (or beyond). Whether they are expressing or responding, either way they are communicating. Some have a specific message to give those wanting to provide Political and Social Commentary As previously mentioned, some music developed from the oral tradition of storytelling.
Any and all stories are open to bias and exaggeration depending on the credibility of the writer. However some music is produced with the deliberate intent of political or social commentary, with the aim of raising public awareness of a particular situation or opinion. The Great Depression of the 1930s gave rise to a movement in American folk music of Protest Songs later revived by musicians such as Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, which bemoaned the lives of those on the breadline and won the sympathy of many with their emotive and evocative lyrics and music. The tradition of protest songs continued as a response to the civil rights movement in America and overseas conflict in the 1960s with firstly Bob Dylan (Blowin in the Wind) and Joan Baez (There but for Fortune) making a stand, followed by the Beatles (Give Peace a Chance and Working Class Hero), Marvin Gaye (Whats Goin On) and Gil Scott-Heron (The Revolution will not be Televised) commenting on some of the social changes of the time. Punk rose out of a wave of anti-establishment and anti-monarchy sentiment in the 1970s.
The wider punk movement was largely a comment on the social events of the late 1970s/early 1980s, seen by many as a bleak cultural wasteland and expressed through music in songs such as London Calling and (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais by The Clash. It too commented on conflict in the wider world with powerful songs such as Holiday in Cambodia by The Dead Kennedys. Reggae also provided a deep rich vein of social commentary with Bob Marley leading the way with songs such as Get Up Stand Up and Redemption Song.
The 1980s saw a plethora of social and political commentary music – Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2, Free Nelson Mandela by the Special AKA, Neil Youngs Rockin in the Free World, Peter Gabriels Biko, Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen, Moneys too tight to mention by Simply Red, Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat and of course almost anything written and performed by Billy Bragg from that day to this (all hail the Bard of Barking). Elvis Costello was particularly eloquent in his anti-Thatcherist anthems Shipbuilding and Tramp The Dirt Down and the wonderful They Might Be Giants brought us Minimum Wage and Your Racist Friend. Some say that the 1990s was relatively devoid of political and social upheaval and that the music of the 90s was similarly self-absorbed, but the exceptions were socially conscious hip-hop such as Mr Wendel by Arrested Development and Burn Hollywood Burn by Public Enemy and fiercely political rock such as Killing in the Name by Rage Against The Machine. Sonic Youths Youth Against Fascism and Bikini Kills Double Dare Ya were stand-out protests about misogyny and sexual harrassment.
The dawning of the new millenium has seen a continuation of social and political commentary music – American Idiot and Minority by Green Day, Paper Planes by M.I.A, Intervention by Arcade Fire and Radio Baghdad by Patti Smith (never one to shy away from a controversial lyric). More recently there has been a resurgence of socially conscious rap by artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Stormzy, raising awareness of social and racial inequality in both the USA and the UK. Of course, music is constantly developing, changing and adapting its function within society and so these examples are by no means exhaustive. Music therapy since its inception has provided much success in the field of treatment of mental health conditions and has broadened to encompass the rehabilitation of offenders in the penal system. Religious music is one of the oldest forms of the genre and has adapted to both the way that society views religion and the fragmentation of religion with fluidity and ease. Electronic music is developing into new classical compositions which open up more interpretation and discussion.
….. And so there you have it the functions of music in society are to provide (and often without seeking to) a definition of self, a sense of belonging/community, opportunities to learn and grow and opportunities to reflect and respond. Y, 4IsNXpxpop, Yu),[email protected](2O4kLEzqO2POuz_gx7svnB2,E3p9GQd H IjZ29LZ15xl.
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